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Southern Resident Killer Whales in the Salish Sea.

Save the whales: A decade of action for Southern Residents

For the last 10 years, Raincoast has been using science, public education and the courts to try and protect Canada’s endangered population of salmon-eating killer whales. With their Chinook salmon stocks in serious decline and targeted by fisheries, and a noisy and polluted ocean, they face extinction under existing conditions. The good news is they can recover if these conditions are reversed.

2018: A crisis for whales

In August of 2018 – after the death of another SRKW calf (to J35) and the death of young female (J50), Raincoast called for full closures of marine recreational and commercial Chinook fisheries and full closure of commercial and private whale watching on Southern Resident killer whales.  We took this step after months and years of input to the Canadian Federal government failed to result in necessary threat reductions and the declining state of the SRKW population.

Our August 2018 submission to the Washington State Task Force on SRKW (PDF) outlines the immediate steps that need to be taken to address this critical situation.

 Use Emergency Order provision of the Species at Risk Act

With our NGO partners and Ecojustice lawyers, Raincoast called for the use of an Emergency Order (PDF) under section 80 of the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA)

2017: A crisis for Chinook salmon

Most populations of wild Chinook salmon in British Columbia are in crisis. This crisis is not just about numbers of Chinook relative to recent baselines, it extends to their size, their fecundity (how many eggs females carry), their run timing, their age structure, and in many places, their genetic diversity.  Despite this, only minor changes to Fisheries Mgmt Plans occurred in 2018.

For the past 10 years Raincoast, with its partners in the Marine Conservation Caucus, have submitted comments and critiques to Fisheries & Oceans Canada DFO on Chinook salmon management under the salmon Integrated Fisheries Management Plans (IFMPs).  Download our critiques and comments on these fisheries below.

We also made specific submissions to DFO on the need to address Chinook harvest and implement threat reduction for Southern Resident killer whales

10 years of legal action to establish and protect critical habitat

In the fall of 2008, Raincoast and several other conservation groups filed a lawsuit to protect Canada’s two populations of Resident killer whales. Represented by Ecojustice, the case was filed on the basis that Fisheries & Oceans Canada (DFO) is obligated to protect the critical habitat of threatened and endangered whales. A 16-year timeline detailing government failure and legal action by NGOs can be downloaded: SRKW recovery planning timeline (PDF).  The series of legal actions ended with a win (supreme court and the court of appeal) for critical habitat protection, at least on paper. The details of the critical habitat lawsuit (PDF) are here.

Please support our petition to protect killer whales.

Take action now

In 2016, Raincoast, again led by Ecojustice, filed a lawsuit to stop TransMountain’s proposed seven-fold increase in oil tanker traffic through the Salish Sea.  The case was heard before the Federal Court of Appeal in October 2017.  A decision will be released in 2018. To read more about this critical court case.

More salmon and less noise, disturbance, and pollution needed in the Salish Sea

Southern Resident killer whales (SRKW) need better living conditions if they are going to survive.  This starts with an adequate availability of Chinook salmon, their primary food source. In 2012, the US and Canadian governments (through NOAA and DFO) began a series of workshops examining the effect of salmon fisheries on southern resident killer whales.  Raincoast did not agree with some of the conclusions of their Science Panel Expert Report (PDF) and submitted our comments (PDF) to NOAA and DFO. We then conducted our own Population Viability Analysis (PDF) with leading scientists on this topic. One of the important findings from this analysis shows that more Chinook salmon and less disturbance from vessels can rebuild Southern Resident killer whale numbers.

Acoustic disturbance from vessel traffic

This expert testimony/report describes the importance of sound to killer whales and the concern for even more noise in their critical habitat. Southern resident killer whales produce and listen to sounds in order to establish and maintain critical life functions: to navigate, find and select mates, maintain their social network, and locate and capture prey (especially Chinook salmon). The existing level of noise has already degraded critical habitat and studies suggest it has reduced the feeding efficiency of these whales.

Download:  RCF – SRKW acoustics-NEB (PDF)

Population Viability Analysis

Since 2015, Raincoast has conducted two Population Viability Analyses (PVAs) on the SRKWs. A PVA can be a powerful analysis that evaluates and ranks threats to wildlife populations and assesses the likely effectiveness of recovery options. The first PVA (PDF) (2015) focused solely on the implications of Kinder Morgan’s proposed seven-fold increase in oil tanker traffic through the Salish Sea, which has implications for noise and disturbance, potential oil spills and potential ship strikes. It was submitted as expert testimony in the National Energy Board’s hearing reviewing the TransMountain proposed pipeline and oil tanker project.  The second PVA was published in 2017 in one of Nature’s journal’s Scientific Reportsit addresses primary cumulative threats.

Both PVAs were conducted by an international team of renowned scientists representing academic and conservation organizations in three countries. The PVAs assessed the viability of Southern Residents in light of their cumulative disturbances and threats, including salmon abundance, increased ocean noise and disturbance from vessel traffic, climate change, contaminants and oil spills.

The Southern Resident population has experienced almost no population growth over the past four decades and has declined in the last two decades. Our PVA shows that SRKW could be functionally extinct (less than 30 individuals) with a century existing under conditions.  A similar analysis by Fisheries and Oceans Canada came to the same conclusion. Conversely, reducing vessel traffic (small and large boat noise and disturbance) and increasing Chinook abundance increases their likelihood of long-term survival.

Action Plan for recovery of SRKWs

In 2014, DFO released its first Draft Action Plan (2014 PDF) for Resident killer whales in British Columbia. Raincoast felt the document was weak and lacked action. With Ecojustice, Raincoast and a group of NGOs provided a critique of this Action Plan. Our primary criticisms are the lack of separate actions plans for endangered (Southern) versus threatened (Northern) killer whales, and the lack of threat reduction for food supply, physical and acoustic disturbance and pollutant exposure for endangered SRKW.

In 2016, DFO released a second Draft Action Plan (PDF), with little difference from the first. Again with Ecojustice, we critiqued this plan and submitted our comments (PDF) in August 2016. A final Resident Killer Whale Action Plan (PDF) was released in 2017.

Download: Comments on 2016 Draft Action Plan (PDF) for Resident killer whales.

Download: Comments on the 2014 Draft Action Plan (PDF) for Resident killer whales.

In February 2018, Raincoast and its partners submitted a comprehensive recovery document (PDF) that outlines the measures that need to be taken for SRKW.

In August 2018, Raincoast and its U.S. partner, the Wild Fisher Conservancy, submitted an emergency measures (PDF) document to the Washington State Task Force on SRKWs

Audio interviews

Killer whales spyhop with a tanker in the background and population viability maps in the foreground.

The National Energy Board and killer whales, on As It Happens

In this interview, Misty outlines that while oil spills remain a clear risk, the effects of increased vessel traffic, i.e. noise and disturbance, are a certainty.

Seals hanging out on a rocky outcropping, soaking up some sunshine.

Seals and sea lions in the Salish Sea are all part of a healthy food web

Since the killing of seals and sea lions ended in the 1970s, pinnipeds in the Salish Sea have been recovering. The recovery of seals slowed by 2000 and for the last fifteen years or so the number of seals in the Salish Sea has been relatively stable. This population of fish eaters has recovered to what was likely historic levels…

A Southern Resident killer whale slaps their tail in the Salish Sea.

L124 is the newest member of the Southern Resident killer whales

Listen to Misty MacDuffee explain some of the context around the recent birth of L124 in the Salish Sea. Declines in Chinook abundance, especially to the Fraser, are affecting killer whale behaviour patterns, fertility and survival…

Southern Resident killer whales J50 with her sister, J42, in July of 2018, swim by in the Salish Sea.

Misty MacDuffee joins Adam Sterling on CFAX 1070 to discuss Washington State’s billion dollar plan to aid killer whale recovery

Misty MacDuffee and Adam Stirling discuss the benefits and the shortcomings of Washington’s investment, the problem with dams, aid to Chinook hatcheries and new hatchery production. They discuss the genetic and ecological implications from hatcheries and why MacDuffee believes this makes them a poor investment for salmon recovery and Southern Resident killer whales.     […]

Two Southern Resident killer whales in the Salish Sea, with CFAX logo and Misty MacDuffee in the foreground

Interview: Southern Resident killer whales, fisheries, whale watching and the need for enforcement

Last week, Raincoast Conservation Foundation and the David Suzuki Foundation made a joint call for action to save the Southern Resident killer whales. This call for action was made to the new Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Jonathan Wilkinson to immediately close recreational and commercial marine Chinook fisheries, to suspend all commercial and recreational whale […]

The dead calf of J35 floats in the waters of the Salish Sea.

Misty MacDuffee on CFAX 1070 on fishery closures, Chinook salmon and Southern Resident killer whales

Southern Resident killer whales need systemic solutions that reverse the increase in noise and interference with feeding, and that protect Chinook salmon populations. Listen to two prescient interviews that Misty MacDuffee, Wild Salmon Program Director with Raincoast Conservation Foundation, has given with CFAX 1070…

Latest News: Southern Resident killer whales

A single Southern Resident killer whale surfaces in the Salish Sea.

No half measures for Southern Resident killer whales

Right now, as we anticipate the return of these endangered whales to the Salish Sea, the federal government is considering exactly what measures they will take to aid recovery in 2019. They are asking you for your input, and it is critical that you encourage them to make the right choice. Many voices are advocating for less ambitious recovery actions…

L121 and calf in the Salish Sea.

NEB recommends Trans Mountain proceed despite “significant adverse effects” to Southern Residents

The National Energy Board (NEB) has recommended that the Trans Mountain expansion project should proceed despite the “significant adverse effects” of oil tankers on the critically endangered population of Southern Resident killer whales. Although we disagree with the NEB’s conclusion, their review of the project effects on killer whales is forthright and portrays the severity of the current situation…

Killer Whales in the foreground and text: Victoria April 18 Panel

Panel: the future of killer whale recovery

Through the support of Stream of Consciousness, you can join us on April 18th, either in person or by streaming the event free online. Hosted by CBC’s Bob McDonald, the evening will feature a panel of experts who will be open to questions from the live audience and viewers online.

Killer whales spyhop with a tanker in the background and population viability maps in the foreground.

The National Energy Board and killer whales, on As It Happens

In this interview, Misty outlines that while oil spills remain a clear risk, the effects of increased vessel traffic, i.e. noise and disturbance, are a certainty.

J16 spy hops: Southern Resident killer whale.

No mitigation measures can protect Southern Resident killer whales from the noise of Trans Mountain’s tanker traffic

While we disagree with the NEB’s conclusion, we acknowledge that their review of the effects on killer whales accurately portrays the complexity and severity of the situation.

Beam Reach Haro Strait Salish Sea, with a map of the Southern Resident killer whale critical habitat and the tanker route tot he Trans Mountain Expansion Burnaby terminal.

Raincoast’s new evidence on Southern Resident killer whales for the National Energy Board’s reconsideration of the Trans Mountain Expansion

The National Energy Board is now preparing its recommendations to cabinet on the Trans Mountain Expansion. When we won our legal case in the federal court of appeal in August 2018, the courts quashed the Trans Mountain permits and required the National Energy Board to reconsider their recommendations…

Seals hanging out on a rocky outcropping, soaking up some sunshine.

Seals and sea lions in the Salish Sea are all part of a healthy food web

Since the killing of seals and sea lions ended in the 1970s, pinnipeds in the Salish Sea have been recovering. The recovery of seals slowed by 2000 and for the last fifteen years or so the number of seals in the Salish Sea has been relatively stable. This population of fish eaters has recovered to what was likely historic levels…

The Achiever with a misty mountain in the background.

April conservation expedition with Raincoast’s Dr. Paul Paquet

As Raincoast’s Senior Scientist, and a world renowned large carnivore expert, Paul’s input is key to guiding our research and conservation programs in both the Great Bear Rainforest and the Salish Sea. Paul will provide insight into key conservation issues on BC’s coast including…

Southern Resident killer whales swim by in the Salish Sea.

Southern Resident killer whales need more than luck

The reality is that calves like Lucky only have a 40% chance of survival. More sobering still is the fact that no calves have survived in this population in the last three years. This is why we have stopped using images…

A Southern Resident killer whale slaps their tail in the Salish Sea.

L124 is the newest member of the Southern Resident killer whales

Listen to Misty MacDuffee explain some of the context around the recent birth of L124 in the Salish Sea. Declines in Chinook abundance, especially to the Fraser, are affecting killer whale behaviour patterns, fertility and survival…

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